It’s become a ridiculed word in society and, surprisingly, even among some Christians.
When I encourage readers to accept Jesus Christ in my posts, I’ll often write something like, “Repent of your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone.”
Some may ask, what exactly is meant by “repent”?
The Greek words for repent (verb) and repentance (noun) are metanoéō and metanoia and they appear a total of 55 times in the New Testament. The “Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance” defines metanoia as:
“Change of mind, repentance, the state of changing any or all of the elements composing one’s life: attitude, thoughts, and behaviors concerning the demands of God for right living: note that this state can refer to the foundational salvation event in Christ, or to on-going repentance in the Christian life” (my italics and boldface).
When a person is saved, they change their mind (repent) about their rebellion against God, agreeing with God that they are an absolute helpless sinner in need of the Savior, and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Repentance is part of the conversion to Christ. A person can’t accept Christ as Savior until they have understood through the ministry of the Holy Spirit their desperate need of the Savior and repented (changed their mind) about their rebellion against God. Every person who has accepted (some prefer to say “trusted in”) Christ as Savior has repented of their sinful rebellion. Many preachers of the Gospel even use “repentance” as shorthand for conversion to Christ.
Repentance, turning from sinful rebellion against God to trusting in Christ as Savior by faith alone, is Scriptural and is well understood as basic, elementary theology by most Christians.
Apostle Peter declared to unbelievers, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Acts 3:19
Apostle Paul later declared to unbelievers, “How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. – Acts 20:20-21
Once a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone, they will follow Christ imperfectly and must repent of (turn from) subsequent sins of disobedience, but that is not a matter of salvation.
Pretty basic stuff, huh? Shouldn’t even be an issue, right? So why am I making a fuss about all of this?
A fellow WordPress blogger has repeatedly accused me of adding works to the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone by mentioning repentance as part of conversion. He claims that repentance is a work and cannot be added to simply accepting Christ as Savior.
I’ve been wrongly accused of a lot of things, but I don’t like being accused of distorting the Gospel. I’ve explained several times to this individual that repentance is turning from rebellion against God to agreeing with God about the need for Christ, so it is a vital component of accepting Christ. You can’t accept Christ until you have understood (changed your mind regarding) your need for Christ. But this blogger is having none of it and believes he is defending the pure Gospel against an imaginary work. While I applaud this person’s defense of the Gospel of grace, his misunderstanding of repentance causes him to tilt at windmills. It’s very clear that he understands “repentance” only in some type of Catholic penitential, self-reformation sense.
However, this blogger is not alone in this viewpoint as I have seen some others rankled over the same issue. So why do I continue to include admonitions to repent in my invitations to receive Christ if some are troubled by it? As I explained, repentance is a very necessary part of accepting Christ. At many churches, there are often ambiguous invitations to “follow Jesus” or “receive Jesus into your heart.” Church visitors often “respond” to invitations without truly understanding their depraved, sinful state and their need of Christ as Savior. They make a “decision” and then go home and live their lives like they always have. Their was no genuine conversion. Sinners MUST repent (change their minds) about their sinful rebellion against God and turn to Christ. You cannot genuinely trust in Christ UNLESS you have repented! Repentance is absolutely mandatory in Biblical salvation! Attempting to concoct some type of salvation in Christ without repentance would be like an imaginary scenario in which someone just showed up at a doctor’s office out of the blue with no symptoms. “I’m here, Doc, but I don’t know why I’m here!” Does not compute. Only people who admit they are sick seek a doctor’s help. That’s repentance.
I’ll admit I’m a little frustrated at having to repeatedly defend myself against accusations of adding works to the Gospel, but I hold no ill will against this blogger who has a limited understanding of theology and is sincerely attempting to defend the Gospel of grace. I have suggested to the person that he do a word study of repent/metanoéō and repentance/metanoia in the New Testament, but that would precipitate an uncomfortable paradigm shift.
“Repentance means that you realize that you’re a guilty, vile sinner in the presence of God. That you deserve the wrath and punishment of God, that you are hell bound. It means that you begin to realize that this thing called sin is in you, that you long to get rid of it and that you turn your back on it in every shape and form. You renounce the world, whatever the cost. The world in its mind and outlook as well as its practice and you deny yourself and take up the cross and go after Christ. Your nearest and dearest and the whole world may call you a fool, or say you have religious mania, you may have to suffer financially, it makes no difference, that is repentance. It’s always been understood the same way. It is a complete change, life-changing and it begins at salvation and that just starts a permanent lifelong process of ongoing confession of sin.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones from “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”